What is Transsexuality? An Explanatory GuideFirst, I'll have to explain "Intersex". Although 98.3% of people are born normally male or female, 1.7% aren't, quite. Of those, about half have trivial, insignificant differences from the norm, but some of the rest have significant differences. Some people are genetically male, but have female bodies, or the reverse. Others have their genes screwed up, so instead of being 46xx (female) or 46xy(male), they are 47xxy, or even a mix of 46xy and 46xx cells.
Now, I'll explain "What is a Transsexual". Some people - the Intersexed - have normal bodies, normal neural (brain) development, but cross-gendered genitalia. But others have normal bodies, normal genitalia, but cross-gendered brains. Genital development happens in the middle of the first trimester, neural development at the end. Little boys "know" they are boys before age 6, little girls "know" they are girls before age 6 too, and this has nothing to do with their body shape or upbringing, it depends on the neural development that was programmed in long before they were born.
Sometimes - about 1 in 500 according to Professor Lynn Conway, things go wrong to a greater or lesser extent. It's possible to end up with a wholly male body, but a female brain, and a female mind. The opposite happens too, but as we all start with a basically female template, it's easier to have a glitch that stops the masculinization of a male than to introduce extra masculinization in a female. That's why only 1 in 4 transsexuals are "Female to Male", men literally trapped in female bodies.
Many transsexuals whose "glitch" was partial can live with it, in various degrees of discomfort. But in at least 1 in 7 cases, or about 1 in 3500 people, the "glitch" is not partial, it's complete. These people, normal men or women who happen to have the wrong shaped body for their brains and minds, get a very severe degree of discomfort indeed. And it gets worse with age. Their brains just don't work very well with the hormonal blood chemistry they have, and their instinctive behavior is all wrong. Oddly enough, this has little to do with their sexual preference : many such women actually become ostensibly "lesbian" as the result of all the male hormones in their system, and the outside world thinks they're normal, straight males.
There's no "cure" for this congenital condition, but there is an effective treatment that's got a 97% improvement rate. That is to alter the sufferer's body with Hormones, and largely change it so it conforms to the brain's setup. But HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) can only do so much, some surgical "detail work" is usually required so that the sufferer can look normal, and resume their place in society, but as a member of the opposite sex. The one they've always truly been, inside, since long before their birth.
It's just a minor, and quite common, congenital abnormality. Unfortunately, it has far-reaching societal effects. Today, the problem is often picked up early enough so that intervention occurs during or shortly after puberty. But our knowledge of this syndrome is relatively recent, and due to the maternal instinct, a lot of transsexual women (those with male bodies) who were born in the 40's, 50's, 60's or even 70's are married and with children. As the discomfort gets worse with age, many are forced to "transition" at average age 45 no matter what the effect on their loved ones or careers, or suffer permanent and crippling psychological damage. But 45 is an average, some can last till 60, others have to transition before 30.
(C) 2006 Zoe E Brain - may be reproduced freely for non-commercial purposes
Monday, 8 January 2007
This is a 1-page article, necessarily simplified, which I've found useful in helping TS people explain their circumstances to their families. It's got no hyperlinks or references to sources, it's designed to be a simple explanation, not an academic thesis or even blog article. Nonetheless, it's helped many, and despite its flaws, I think it's saved a few lives.